What Are the Most Difficult Countries to Visit?
By Henrik Jeppesen.
It is not easy to visit every country in the world, and only around 200 people are known to have completed the challenging quest. This article is about ten of the most challenging countries I visited on my journey to every country in the world. Please keep in mind that I travelled on Danish passports, and the situation might be entirely different for you, especially if you don’t have a Western passport.
It was a long process to be able to visit Syria in 2015 during the war. Danish journalist, Rasmus Tantholdt has reported from Syria many times, and I asked him about Syria. He thought it would be fine to visit Damascus and gave me an e-mail of a person to contact. This man knew the Syrian ambassador in North Korea which he described as “closest friend ever”. I e-mailed him my request, and after a lot of e-mails back and forth, I was able to pick up a visa at the Syrian embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, where I was at the time.
It was an exciting experience to pick up the visa, as I had been there earlier, and I felt like the two young men didn’t take me seriously. This time was completely different, and I was invited to the ambassador’s office and was offered a cup of tea. A great conversation followed, and I was ready to visit Syria. However, having a visa isn’t always enough to get into a country. I flew into Beirut, where my contact picked me up and took me to the border.
The immigration officer probably had a hard time believing I was in Syria as a tourist, but my contact explained, and I was eventually allowed into Syria. On the way into Damascus, I could see smoke from bombs from a distance, but the city centre itself was controlled by the government and did not feel dangerous. When I asked my contact how many tourists that were in Syria, he told me I was the only one.
Yemen is a country with a lot to offer, but it has unfortunately only seen a limited number of tourists in the past years because of war and political instability. I visited in 2014, the year before the civil war broke out. It was not through an embassy, but instead through a local tour operator called Socotra Eco-Tours.
I had a lot of stress in Djibouti’s international airport before flying to Yemen as my permission paper kept getting delayed, but I eventually got it and arrived in Sana’s international airport where there were several people to welcome me including a good contact from Felix Airways. I later had lunch at his house, and I had a great time in both mainland Yemen and the beautiful island of Socotra. Yemen remains one of the most challenging countries to visit.
Saudi Arabia has recently opened up for tourism, but it used to be very difficult to visit for most people unless you are Muslim. I am not, and Saudi Arabia was for me one of the most difficult countries to visit. I researched the possibility of a transit visa which worked for some travellers allowing them a short visit inside the country, but I ended up getting Radisson Blu to sponsor me a visit so I could enter on a business visa. First, my paperwork was rejected in London, before I finally got them approved in Copenhagen with the help of an agency in 2016.
I contacted more than half of the Libyan embassies asking for their help in getting me a visa to Libya. None of them was able to help, even after desperately explaining my situation to their embassy in Copenhagen. Instead, Danish journalist Rasmus Tantholdt again helped me out. He gave me the number of the responsible person for foreign press in Libya and within an hour of contacting him on WhatsApp he had guaranteed me not only a visa but also arranged a free ticket for me with a local airline. Upon arriving in Tripoli, there was a lot of waiting time before eventually being allowed into their country. Libya was an outstanding experience for me, where I met the Prime Minister in Tripoli and had great experiences with the friendly locals. Libya probably deserves a spot on a list of countries with the friendliest people.
I wasted many hours on this visa. First, their embassy in Pretoria tried to help me, but without success. Then I had a weird experience with their embassy in Libreville, Gabon, where I spent a lot of time. I explained my reasons for wanting to visit, and then they tried to charge me a significant fee for the visa. I refused and offered a lower price based on research online, and it got accepted, or so I thought because they ended up rejecting me a visa some days later. It was very frustrating, but I travelled on.
Instead, I printed an A4-page about myself and went to their consulate in Lagos, Nigeria where I got the visa on the same day as their ambassador was helpful and interested in helping my project of visiting every country in the world. It’s such a beautiful country, but unfortunately so hard to visit for Europeans.
Angola used to be one of the most difficult countries to get a visa for, except there was a loophole. A 5-day transit visa. While many might think this is just for an overland trip, I managed to get a 5-day transit visa at their embassy in São Tomé that allowed me to fly into Luanda, the capital of Angola and then fly to a different destination within five days. I also visited the special region of Cabinda while in Angola and enjoyed my visit to one of the most expensive countries in the world.
The experience at their embassy in São Tomé was challenging as they didn’t speak English and my Portuguese was very limited. I showed an article about me, but at first, it looked like a problem as they probably don’t like journalists in Angola. Eventually, the visa was approved after a few days.
Nowadays, Angola is more open, and a visa is available on arrival for certain nationalities through online registration.
This Central Asian country is a unique travel experience, but a difficult country to visit. It’s not easy to get a tourist visa. You can get a 5-day transit visa, but to my knowledge that requires a visa to the country, you are travelling after Turkmenistan and only works overland. Instead, I did an agreement with a local tour operator called Owadan Tourism, which allowed me to fly in and out on a tourist visa. It took some time for the paperwork, so it’s best to plan well ahead of time. There would be a significant potential for mass tourism if they made it easier for travellers to visit.
My last country to visit was a difficult one. The Eritrean embassy in Cairo told me to get it at my nearest embassy (Stockholm), an embassy where Norwegian adventurer Gunnar Garfors was rejected a visa after waiting six weeks for a decision. Eritrea at the time was number one on a list of countries with the least amount of press freedom. Number two was North Korea. Danish Tv wanted to join me on this trip, but their journalist couldn’t get a visa. Instead of trying to get a visa at their embassy in Stockholm, I did more research and found a local tour operator (Damera Tours) that could help me with a letter allowing me to get a visa on arrival after sending a visa form and passport copy by e-mail. In April 2016, I arrived in Asmara, and I had completed my project of visiting every country in the world.
The only country in the Pacific, where I needed a visa. One of the world’s least-visited countries based on the number of annual tourists. To get a visa, you must apply at one of their four diplomatic missions (Bangkok, Brisbane, Suva or Taipei) while some have been able to apply online and get an approval letter to get the visa on arrival. There isn’t a whole lot to do in the small island nation of Nauru, and the flights are very expensive. I don’t think it is on many travellers bucket lists.
A difficult visa with lots of requirements if I had applied at my nearest embassy. Instead, I did some research on the internet and Aswan, Egypt came up as an easy place to get a visa. It, however, turned out to be more difficult than I thought. I had to explain to them in detail why I was going to visit Sudan. It was a bit stressful as I thought the visa would be easy but turned out to be a bit more complicated than I expected. However, it was way cheaper than having to get all the paperwork done back in Europe. Only 50 dollars and I was ready to experience the country that was Africa’s biggest before the independence of South Sudan in 2011. Unfortunately, leaving the country wasn’t a nice experience. They charged some kind of registration fee of 50 dollars in addition to what I had already paid for a visa to visit their country. I don’t think this country will be a big tourist destination anytime soon.
I had to get a letter for my visa application, but thankfully it wasn’t difficult. A big thanks to Ibis in Constantine for their help.
Niger could easily have made the list if it wasn’t for a very helpful woman at their embassy in Rabat, Morocco. It might not be an easy visa to get at most embassies.
This might be a difficult visa to get at a European embassy, but I had a pleasant experience at their embassy in Bamako, Mali. There were no requirements other than filling a form and paying 88 dollars. A lot cheaper than some travellers have paid for getting access to the most populous country in Africa.
Republic of the Congo
There are two Congo countries. The other one, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was an easy visa to get via mail from their consulate in Copenhagen. The Republic of the Congo wasn’t so easy. I had to convince a woman at their embassy in Pretoria about my travel plans by first showing visas of other African countries, but I managed to get the visa after I had done that.
I had to show up at their embassy in Copenhagen personally. Like with Algeria, a letter was needed, but thankfully The-Ritz Carlton in Moscow provided ‘visa support vouchers’ for a friend and me. You can actually visit Russia much easier if you only visit the oblast (region) of Kaliningrad. Balta Tours helped me with a Russian visa only valid for Kaliningrad, but this specific visa was possible to get on arrival. However, it was necessary to arrange it with a tour operator beforehand.
Why not North Korea?
North Korea is actually not that difficult to visit. At least it wasn’t for me when I visited in 2015. You can read more about how to visit North Korea in this article.